“You may be right. I May Be Crazy.”

Billy Joel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_May_Be_Right_(song)

The third line in the chorus of this great Billy Joel hit works really well for the point I’m about to make — “But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.” Hypothetically, “purely” as they say — if I was running for political office, I could behave irrationally and make the most fantastical statements without fear of being labeled “mentally ill” by journalists. It’s happening in the USA right now by both candidates and officeholders. Most of it’s intentional as a fund raising gimmick and, it works.

What makes all of this craziness part of today’s political landscape? It’s called the “Goldwater Rule”. Barry Goldwater, while running for the U.S. Senate in 1964, sued a magazine for, in so many words, alleging that he was mentally ill. He won a settlement of $75,000, which may seem like a paltry amount, but the real significance of his victory is that it muzzled the media’s speculating about the mental fitness of political candidates and office holders. The lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and journalists, to make a long mind numbing story short, wrestled with this issue ad nauseum from 2016 through 2020 with the result being that the Barry Goldwater Rule still stands as solid as ever. Just ask Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC. I may have missed it, but I don’t recall Lawrence ever making any definitive statement that his robust campaign of alleging mental incapacity in a presidential candidate was being shut down but, that appears to be the case.

There’s an old New Yorker magazine cartoon that I have not been able to dig up, that shows 5 or 6 stereotypical politicians seated around a table smoking cigars with cocktails in hand, with one of them reminding the others, “We can always blame the voters.”

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